Highlights

Mental illness is often not work-related, but work can be a place where people are able to find help and support

Rio Tinto promotes a healthy balanced lifestyle, work-life balance, good nutrition, regular exercise, and access to health care

The company has a diverse health and wellbeing offering to encourage and support all employees in their health journey

Good mental health is important for everyone to enjoy life, earn a living, maintain relationships and realise their potential. But every day, millions of people worldwide experience mental health challenges. When left unmanaged, these can negatively affect not only emotional health but all too often physical health and even workplace safety.

Mental health is a societal issue, and while there are effective treatments for mental illness, estimates suggest that, worldwide, up to 70 per cent of those who need treatment for a mental health disorder don’t receive it.

Mental health in the workplace

Health and safety is Rio Tinto’s most important priority. The safety of Rio Tinto employees extends beyond physical safety to include their mental health and wellbeing.

Dr Will Ponsonby, head of Health at Rio Tinto, says that stigma around mental health is one of the biggest obstacles to people seeking help and treatment. The World Health Organisation's (WHO) Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 calls for a change in the attitudes that perpetuate stigma and discrimination.

Mental illness is just as real as any other illness. It is not a weakness.

Dr Will Ponsonby, head of Health, Rio Tinto

Mental illness is often not work-related, but work can be a place where people are able to find help and support. The workplace can play a key role in recovery from mental health challenges. A positive work environment improves employee wellbeing, morale and productivity. Good work is a positive for mental health.

Creating a supportive work environment also extends to managing issues related to workload, hours, fatigue management, role clarity and leadership.

"This is a conversation we are having with our workforce. We added a question about wellbeing to our twice annual employee survey so we can track how we are doing and address concerns.

"At Rio Tinto we are working hard to create a positive and supportive environment for all employees. There are areas where we believe we are succeeding but it is vital that we continue to increase our efforts to further raise awareness," he says.

"Mental illness is just as real as any other illness. It is not a weakness."

Mental illness is one of the most rapidly growing causes of long-term sickness absence and labour market exclusion across developed countries, despite improved rates of detection and methods of intervention. Studies have suggested that mental health training for managers might help improve occupational outcomes for employees with mental health problems.

In the UK alone, about 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year. These findings in a review commissioned by British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017, titled the Thriving at Work report, put the annual cost to the UK economy of poor mental health at up to £99bn, of which about £42bn was borne by employers.

"Although the research verifies that mental health is a serious challenge and there are costs to companies and countries, we must not lose sight of the suffering that mental health challenges can cause," says Will.

Understanding
mental illness

Understanding
mental illness

A mental health problem may develop into mental illness. There are many different types of mental illness with depression and anxiety being the most common.

A mental health problem may develop into mental illness. There are many different types of mental illness with depression and anxiety being the most common.

The WHO says that depression is a common illness with more than 300 million people affected worldwide. Depression is different from mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. When long-lasting and with moderate or severe intensity, depression may become a serious health condition. It can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. WHO statistics show that close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year.

While the link between suicide and mental disorders is well established in high-income countries, many suicides happen impulsively in moments of crisis with a breakdown in the ability to deal with life stresses, such as financial problems, relationship break-up or chronic pain and illness.

Healthful minds

Rio Tinto promotes a healthy balanced lifestyle, work-life balance, good nutrition, regular exercise, and access to health care. Rio Tinto also promotes "healthful minds", through its new health strategy, introduced in 2017.

"A healthful mind chooses personal health options and starts to guide their own wellbeing and influence others," says Dr Oswaldo Ortiz, principal adviser, Occupational Health at Rio Tinto.

There are five pillars of Rio Tinto’s health strategy: employee awareness, leader awareness, peer support, positive mental health, and systematic and continuous assessment of our workplaces.

"The strategy has evolved to incorporate prevention and early intervention. We need to be more proactive and build resilience. It also aligns with existing work being undertaken across our business."

Oswaldo said that the longer-term view is for all employees to be empowered to build their own health, wellbeing and resilience, and for Rio Tinto to influence and build a culture of doing this.

"In the workplace we have controls in the source of exposure and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as important tools to help keep us safe. Similarly we have tools and resources that are effective in protecting our mental health: we procure to identify and tailor our sources of work stress to maintain a positive challenging environment, and help our employees to build their resilience".


Safety share, Brockman 2, Pilbara, Western Australia Safety share, Brockman 2, Pilbara, Western Australia
Safety share, Brockman 2, Pilbara, Western Australia


"It starts with a healthful mind that chooses personal healthy options such as a good diet, regular exercise, sleep, rest and relaxation, limiting alcohol and spending time doing what makes you happy," he says.

Rio Tinto is committed to empowering all employees to make positive choices towards a fulfilling life and healthier future. One of the initiatives supporting this includes participation in the Virgin Pulse Global Challenge in 2018. One of the aims of the challenge is to build a network of health champions across the business to promote health and wellbeing. Later every employee will have the opportunity to participate in a journey where there is a virtual walk around the world while receiving continuous awareness and education on exercise, nutrition and mental health.


Employee Assistance Programme

The programme gives employees access to professional coaching, advice and support for themselves and their families. It can help with many types of concerns, including: financial and legal questions, children's needs, family relationships, advice for supporting an ill parent, balancing work and home, and dealing with change and stress.

More than 95 per cent of all Rio Tinto employees are covered by the Employee Assistance Programme, and the remaining employees have support from on-site counsellors.


Tools for health

Rio Tinto has a diverse health and wellbeing offering to encourage and support all employees in their health journey.

Raising awareness, working to overcome negative stereotypes, and promoting a healthy balanced lifestyle are important tenets of the programmes at Rio Tinto.

This suite of tools includes the Employee Assistance Programme, peer support programmes and online educational tools. In addition, leader and employee training aims to create awareness around mental health, in order to recognise a problem before it develops and to encourage employees to manage their health.


White Ribbon

White Ribbon

Rio Tinto supports and participates in community, national and international initiatives that raise awareness around mental health.

Rio Tinto supports and participates in community, national and international initiatives that raise awareness around mental health.

In 2018, Rio Tinto became a White Ribbon accredited workplace in Australia. The White Ribbon Accreditation Programme recognises workplaces that are taking active steps to stop violence against women.

In 2017, Rio Tinto introduced a package of initiatives designed to protect and support Australian employees affected by family and domestic violence. Under the package of measures, Rio Tinto will make up to ten days additional leave available to directly affected employees for legal assistance, court appearances, relocation and counselling.

Support also extends to providing appropriate safety plans to protect at-risk employees while they're at work, including security, new telephone numbers, screening or blocking calls and email protection.

Short-term financial assistance and emergency accommodation can also be provided as required to employees who need immediate help, as well as a range of other specialised support services.

Rio Tinto will continue to train leaders and human resources teams to equip them with the skills to recognise and respond to issues of family and domestic violence in the workplace.

Image: Rio Tinto Growth & Innovation Group executive Stephen McIntosh signs a White Ribbon pledge

Peer support

For people suffering with mental health issues, talking to someone they trust can make all the difference. Research suggests that when people do reach out for help, particularly in a work environment, they are more likely to approach friends and colleagues, rather than formal support programmes.

Rio Tinto has peer support programmes at many sites, and is set to roll the initiative out globally. Peer supporters provide colleagues affected by stress with a listening ear or practical assistance, or can connect them to professional help when needed.

Rio Tinto's Group executive, Health, Safety & Environment Joanne Farrell said “Our people at site are often isolated from family and friends and it's really important we recognise our employee's safety extends beyond physical safety to include mental health and wellbeing too.

"As an employer we cannot prevent life's curveballs coming. What we can do is provide our people with the resources, tools and skills to help them deal with these curveballs.

"Our peer support programmes focus on building positive mental health and resilience including how we can integrate health into leadership training and how we set up our camps and offices to maximise health outcomes by design."

A listening ear

A listening ear

Rio Tinto's Iron Ore business introduced a peer support programme in 2012. The programme equips employees at all levels and parts of the business to support their colleagues through difficult times.

Rio Tinto's Iron Ore business introduced a peer support programme in 2012. The programme equips employees at all levels and parts of the business to support their colleagues through difficult times.

Employees who would like to become peer supporters are provided with training. All peer supporters are easy to identify with their logo on email signatures, a sign card at their work station and pins they wear. The role is to lend a listening ear, help people access mental health and wellness tools and services, or, if needed, access to professional help.

Taurai Gusha, a mobile mining equipment fitter at Rio Tinto's Yandicoogina iron ore mine in Western Australia's Pilbara region, has been one of the business' peer supporters for the past two years.

A former professional rugby player, Taurai has always had a love of team environments. Taurai says this is one of the reasons he joined the peer support programme – it's one way he can play a part in creating a positive, healthy and safe work environment for his team.

"I help people around our site who are struggling with a few problems – it could be mental health issues, they may be having a down moment in their life, or it could be issues at home with their kids. It varies day to day.

"It's good to have people at the same level, like team mates, who can help – just to talk. It can make a big difference," said Taurai.

Image: Taurai Gusha